Museo Sicán (Av. Batán Grande, block 9, tel. 074/28-6469, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Tues.–Sun., US$5.50) is 18 kilometers outside of Chiclayo in Ferreñafe. Though unfairly overshadowed by the Museo Tumbas Reales, this modern museum has a fabulous collection of gold objects of the Sicán culture, which succeeded the Moche in A.D. 850 and succumbed to the Chimú in 1375.
The Sicán, also called the Lambayeque, were the first culture in Peru’s north to discover bronze, which they made by mixing arsenic with copper—a technique learned from the Tiahuanaco and Huari cultures in southern Peru. The Sicán were at the hub of a great commercial network that moved emeralds and shells from Ecuador, gold nuggets from the Amazon, and mercury ore for their metallurgy from Peru’s southern sierra.
As lifestyle dioramas in the museum show, the Sicán buried their kings in a unique way: deep within vertical shafts, sometimes accompanied by more than 20 sacrificed attendants and more than a ton of metal and other objects. Archaeologists believe that up to 90 percent of all gold plundered from tombs in Peru comes from Sicán sites in the Lambayeque Valley.
Indeed, Sicán masks, with their characteristic ojos alados (winged eyes), are found in private collections all over the world. In 1936, renowned Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello managed to track down a huge collection of gold artifacts looted from Huaca La Ventana in Batán Grande. Fortunately, Tello was able to save many of these objects for Lima’s Museo de Oro.
Yet little was known about the Sicán civilization until 1991, the year that Japanese archaeologist Izumi Shimada was able to carefully excavate two royal Sicán tombs at the first Sicán capital of Batán Grande. In the east tomb, the king was surrounded by sacrificed women and buried upside down, his decapitated head placed in front of him. The mass of objects in the tomb included two huge golden arms, sacred spondylus shells from Ecuador, a square copper-gold mask stained red with mercury ore, and several cuentas (massive heaps of shell beads).
The west tomb is even larger, with similar gold masks and cuentas surrounding the king, along with niches containing women, sacrificed in pairs. DNA and dental tests have revealed that the two kings, and many of the women in both tombs, were close relatives. Spanish-speaking guides are available for US$6 outside of the museum.
Colectivos to Ferreñafe can be taken from the Terminal de Epsel at the corner of Avenida Oriente and Nicolás de Pierola in Chiclayo.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition